Index Cards Are Still a Study Staple

Research shows this technique aids in recall and long-term retention

Want to know the best way to study?

If the idea of sifting through scientific research on concepts such as kinesthetic learning and metacognitive faculties has you reaching for ibuprofen, read on.

A Time magazine article, which summarizes a comprehensive report on decades of scientific literature revolving around the best and worst learning techniques, ranks “practice testing” near the top of the best techniques.

So, what’s that have to do with index cards?

The article explains, “Research shows that the mere act of calling information to mind strengthens that knowledge and aids in future retrieval. While practice testing is not a common strategy—despite the robust evidence supporting it—there is one familiar approach that captures its benefits: using flash cards.”

Still not convinced? Another study conducted at the University of Kentucky shows students who used index cards to study for three exams in a college-level Introduction to Psychology class “had significantly higher exam scores overall than those students who did not use flash cards at all or only used flash cards on one or two exams.”

And while digital index card apps and websites do exist, you may lose out on all of the memory reconsolidation benefits associated with putting pen to paper. An article about note taking on the MindShift website says, “Several researchers contend that writing by hand stimulates special neural circuits, leading to stronger reading ability, new idea generation, and retention of information.”

So, the next time you want to study for your exam, reach for that pile of 3-by-5 index cards. Your brain will thank you.